This uneasy, compelling novel begins with a nighttime accident on the streets of Paris. The unnamed narrator, a teenage boy, is hit by a car whose driver he vaguely recalls having met before. The mysterious ensuing events, involving a police van, a dose of ether, awakening in a strange hospital, and the disappearance of the woman driver, culminate in a packet being pressed into the boy’s hand. It is an envelope stuffed full of bank notes. The confusion only deepens as the characters grow increasingly apprehensive; meanwhile, readers are held spellbound.
Modiano’s low-key writing style, his preoccupation with memory and its untrustworthiness, and his deep concern with timeless moral questions have earned him an international audience of devoted readers. This beautifully rendered translation brings another of his finest works to an eagerly waiting English-language audience. Paris Nocturne has been named “a perfect book” by Libération, while L’Express observes, “Paris Nocturne is cloaked in darkness, but it is a novel that is turned toward the light.”
Modiano was little known on the world stage until he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. This novel provides a superb and at 160 pages accessible entry to his writings. Its themes of memory and loss are emblematic of Modiano's oeuvre. The story begins "late at night, a long time ago" when, as a teenager, the narrator gets hit by a car driven by a mysterious woman, Jacqueline Beausergent, in a fur coat. She squeezes his wrist in the police van before the narrator succumbs to ether, administered by medical personnel. When he awakes, in a strange clinic, Jacqueline has vanished and the narrator is met by a large man whom he recalled hovering by the scene of the accident. The man hands him an envelope of cash, and when the narrator inquires about who Jacqueline is, he's told coldly that "as far as was concerned the case was closed.' " The narrator's search for Jacqueline propels the novel forward with the intensity of a noir. But Modiano is not writing mere pulp; the novel's true center is the past's pull, the way memories lay dormant for years only to explode "like a time bomb." The Proustian smell of ether, recollections of a father, passing through neighborhoods in Paris, even a stray dog in Modiano's hands, the fog of the past lingers on all the artifacts of daily life.